!Women Art Revolution Documents 40 Years of Feminist Art

After conducting a penis count of major NYC art institutions in the '80s, activist group Guerilla Girls asked, Do ladies have to be naked to get into the Met? Only five percent of the exhibited artists were women while 85 percent of the nudes were female. While we haven't done an exact tally, we're confident that Miami's weenie count is pretty balanced in comparison.

Think of local art superstars Christy Gast, Agustina Woodgate, Jillian Mayer, Susan Lee-Chun and Jen Stark. Add to that major curators like Bonnie Clearwater and Ruba Katrib at MOCA, and gallerists like Bernice Steinbum, and our feminist art report card looks pretty good. But it wasn't always this way. A documentary, !War Art Revolution, which catalogs the feminist art movement, is screening at three of Miami's indie theaters this weekend.

Filmmaker and artist Lynn Hershman Leeson has been filming frustrated women

artists for over 40 years. Her latest, !W.AR., documents how their work was

discredited by art programs, galleries, and museums for decades. Leeson herself sold one of her pieces in the

mid-70s, only to have the collector return it when he found out she was a


With an original score by Carrie Bowenstein (of Sleater Kinney and Wild

Flag), the film is a collection of interviews with dozens (frankly, too

many) feminist artists, female curators,

and tenured art professors. It traces back to

early activism like a protest at the Whitey where feminist artists

projected their artwork on the outside of the building and placed eggs

inside the walls where their work was ignored.

Censored from the white, male art world, women sought out rooms of their own

by starting their own magazines, galleries, and academic programs. Judy Chicago, while

developing the first female art program at Fresno Sate,

noticed women were

immediately drawn to "act out" via performance art. Another interviewed artist backs this up with "There's a long tradition of women being looked upon. Performance art was a way of looking back." (Interestingly, most of Miami's major female artists work in performance.)

In a scene from 1990, House representatives

spend an hour and half raging against vagina art as

porn via a bill censoring Chicago's The Dinner Party as a pornographic

collection of ceramic "vaginal areas." A highlight of the film, Rep. Ron Dellums, who once

curated an exhibit of Vietnam war crimes outside his

Congressional office, retorts with "Pornography are military weapons that

look like phallic symbols capable of doing nothing but destroying human


While the film is invaluable for featuring artists and work that were

unjustly marginalized for decades, it suffers from far too many talking

heads. Just as the personal is the political, !W.A.R. would have been

better served by centering on a few women's specific experiences.

Even in its current treatment, the patron saint of the film is

undoubtedly Ana Medieta, a Cuban exile performance artist (and the

subject of Miami choreographer Ana Mendez recent The Body Is Present


Mendieta was allegedly shoved out a window by her sculpture husband. His

art world peers -- Robert Rauschenberg, etc. -- rallied him and raised funds for his defense. Mendieta's husband was ultimately acquitted

of her murder and went on to exhibit in the Guggenheim.

To some extent, the film wraps around the narrative of the filmmaker. Leeson closes the film by stating that one of her pieces, so

undervalued back in to '70s, was recently bought for 9,000 times its

original price -- ultimately funding this film.

!W.A.R. is a must-see in that it reveals the decades of struggle on which

today's women artists enjoy their success. As artist Harmony Hammond

comments in the film, their fight was "excitement, it was empowering,

and it was a lot of fucking work."

!W.A.R. is screening this weekend at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema, and Cosford Cinema.

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